Encouraged by the response to their active online presence, the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) is now looking to expand its digital footprint and develop games and mobile phone apps. The project, still in its initial stage, is set to launch mid next year.
It envisages making “educational, informative and philanthropic kind of games that will infuse positive thoughts such as helping others in need, emergency situations, Islamic ethics and learning of the Holy Quran and Sunnah,” according to Abdul Rehman from JuD’s information technology and social media department.
The Ahle Hadith group’s acceptance of technology, and particularly digital games, may raise some eyebrows, but Rehman told The Express Tribune in an e-mail interview that, “We have also learned from the life of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him), that he has always forbidden from things that waste time and have no benefit as such. Games and cell phones are few of those factors. So the best way forward is to provide a replacement that does provide entertainment but with sound learning and information – anything that helps an individual or the society.”
In the past couple of years, JuD has developed an extensive online presence, which includes websites for JuD and its philanthropic arm, the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation, and Facebook and Twitter accounts. The managers of Twitter accounts for the JuD and its head, Hafiz Saeed, engage actively with users – including its many detractors.
After the JuD offered assistance to the US to help those impacted by Hurricane Sandy, the US Embassy in Islamabad wrote on Twitter: “We respect the Islamic tradition of help to the needy, but we can’t take Hafiz Saeed’s offer seriously. Saaed is wanted for suspected involvement in the Mumbai attacks, which killed 166. JuD is a UN and US-designated terrorist organisation.” The US offered a reward this April for up to $10 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Hafiz Saeed. The group, however, works openly in Pakistan and has expanded rapidly after its leadership was implicated in the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
The digital project, ambitiously, will also try to provide an alternative to the “damage that has been done by violent games that most gaming giants have made throughout these years, by incepting [sic] all the wrong ideas and concepts.”
“Our vision behind these games would be to make the player a better human being, Muslim and a person who is equipped with the art of helping others with real-time information and practice in these games,” Rehman said. They also might have a brief introduction to JuD or Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation, but will use the experience of these two groups in games related to education, rescue and relief.
Given that there are a considerable number of smartphone applications available with religious teachings, Hadiths and prayer timings, JuD will need to differentiate its product. “We know that a lot of work has been done already,” Rehman said. “For instance, authentic supplications with related keywords are something that can tremendously help people finding solace whenever and wherever they need, not sure if this kind of app is already available but we will ensure that wheel is not reinvented.”
Other religious groups in Pakistan have also upped their online presence. The banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat has a number of Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. Other banned organisations, such as the Masood Azhar-led Jaish-e-Mohammad, have a number of their publications available online. The Jamaat-e-Islami also has separate Twitter accounts for its head Syed Munawar Hasan and Liaquat Baloch, its secretary general.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2012.